TUCKER, Ga. — Not that long ago, back when COVID-19 was Public Enemy Number One for our industry and the country as a whole, it might have seemed reasonable to say, “Well, once we get past this pandemic, everything ought to be fine.”
Turns out, we should have been thinking of that old comic line: “It’s always something.”
Really, it does seem like that sometimes.
COVID-19 was an earth-shaker, to be sure. Getting U.S. poultry and eggs to the rest of the world during the peak of the crisis required extraordinary effort by everyone due to all the production and distribution problems that confronted us.
Those shipping transportation and logistics woes continued into 2022. Then we were hit with something else, that dreaded four-letter word (children, please leave the room): HPAI.
Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza, which severely hampered our ability to export when it struck seven years ago, returned to threaten us again.
New findings in commercial and backyard flocks popped up here, there, and then, seemingly, everywhere. As I write this, 264 commercial flocks and 356 backyard flocks in 46 states have had confirmed detections and more than 50 million birds have been affected. That led to many of our export markets banning our products.
Good export news
Now, here is the good news in all this bad. According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. broiler meat exports have been setting all-time records in both volume and value for January through September this year and are expected to hit record levels for 2022.
Total poultry and egg export value is forecast to reach more than $6 billion, up from $5.544 billion in 2021. That kind of performance would have been commendable in normal times. It’s extraordinary considering the issues we’ve faced this year.
Not that it’s all been positive. HPAI has hurt the performance of turkey export volume, although turkey export value held its own, as well as egg export volume and value.
We hope to see that change next year.
It’s important to point out that the success that we have seen with broilers despite HPAI did not just happen. It was the result of a years-long cooperative effort undertaken by the U.S. government, specifically the U.S. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and USAPEEC. Together, we worked to limit the restrictions that would be imposed on U.S. poultry imports in the wake of any confirmed findings of HPAI.
When the last big outbreak of HPAI occurred in 2015, many markets totally closed their doors to our product, refusing to accept imports from the entire country.
But an ongoing program to educate animal health experts and officials in many of those markets led them to reduce or localize the restrictions they would impose. In many cases, that meant limiting bans to the state, county, or area where the finding was made. This made a critical difference, as it allowed more of our product entry into markets that otherwise would have been completely closed.
That shift is significant for exports in the long-term, too, because avian influenza probably is not going away. The general thinking now is that it will be a perennial issue, even with the best biosecurity measures taken.
It’s also important to acknowledge that not every country has acted to limit restrictions when there is a detection or lift those restrictions per internationally recognized standards of declaring a zone HPAI-free. So, much work remains to be done on the conversation and negotiation side.
Of course, USAPEEC, with our government, will remain on the forefront of this effort to limit the effects.
Our industry will continue to work through other challenges including logistics, and there surely will be some new ones in the coming year.
One thing we are all certain of is that we will do our best to continue to provide high quality U.S. poultry and eggs to the world, in 2023 and beyond.
In conclusion, I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the man who previously authored this column, Jim Sumner.
After 30 years of remarkable service on behalf of our organization and industry, Jim retired last summer as president and CEO of USAPEEC, and now serves the council as its senior trade policy consultant.
As the new president and CEO, I have the pleasure and responsibility of leading our great organization as we work to open and expand markets and deliver U.S. chicken, turkey, eggs, and duck to the world.
I look forward to the challenges to come and the New Year.
Greg Tyler is president and CEO of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council headquartered in Tucker, Ga. For more information, visit www.usapeec.org.